This year, millions of young men and women will graduate from colleges and universities in the U.S. Each of them is a trendsetter -- not because of their mastery of the latest technology or their social networking skills, but because they'll graduate with the expectation that joining the workforce won't mean checking their ideals at the door.
They are some of the youngest leaders in the nationwide, multi-generational movement I call active citizenship.
An active citizen is a person who uses his or her professional skills and applies them to alleviate a social problem in a sustainable way. Active citizenship is different from the noble but inherently limited tradition of volunteerism, because active citizens don't stop after volunteering. They go further and examine the root causes of the problems that inspired them to serve in the first place -- problems like hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and inequality.
All around the country, I've met people who want to be involved in this new activism, but don't know how. That's why I've written a book, Citizen You: Doing Your Part to Change the World, to show people how easy it is to integrate these concepts into their lives, no matter who they are or what their background.
In my life, I was fortunate enough to have had the influence of four generous people: my father, my uncle, my mother, and my aunt. Bob, my father, and Larry, my uncle, were two guys from Brooklyn who had success in business, but they never lost sight of their responsibility to their community. I'll always remember how my dad and uncle were the annual organizers and hosts for a massive Thanksgiving dinner for the physically disabled at a hotel they built, the Americana, on 7th Avenue in New York City.
The college students we meet in the book -- along with Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and retirees from around the country -- have discovered and implemented active citizenship in their communities. They have created "citizen schools" that build upon traditional volunteer-teaching methods in innovative ways; they have become "citizen engineers" -- engineers who consider the community and social implications as an integral part of their work; and they are creating "Cities of Service" across the country.
You'll be able to read about all of these people and more at the brand-new CitizenYou.org. Meant to complement and expand upon the book, the website will serve as an online gathering place for people who want to read and share inspiring stories about the new ways people are changing the world every day -- and to find opportunities to get involved themselves.
When we think about the prospects for service and activism in our country, we may feel trepidation. There may always seem to be a more pressing issue that prevents our getting involved. But the need for activism has never been stronger. What we've learned, sometimes painfully, over the last two or three years is that we can't rely on government and big business to address every problem we have. In a time of unprecedented challenges nationally and globally, citizen engagement is not a choice -- it's a necessity.
Every one of us has a responsibility to identify our skills, apply them in the community, and do our part to make this a better country. That's how we'll come back healthier and stronger than we have ever been before.
Jonathan Tisch is Co-Chairman of the Board for Loews Corporation and Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels. His new book, Citizen You: Doing Your Part to Change the World, will be published on May 4.
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